Room 6: Ideal and Experimental Art: The Later Years

His grace was not academical, nor antique, but selected by himself from the great school of nature
Sir Joshua Reynolds, Discourse XIV (1788)

The President of the Royal Academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds, gave an admiring account of Gainsborough’s work shortly after his death in 1788. Reynolds was bringing his rival back into the fold after his violent quarrel with the Academy four years earlier. Nevertheless, Gainsborough’s later works show his commitment to a type of modern painting that contrasted with that promoted by Reynolds and the Academy. His art was concerned with the realities of contemporary life and with sensual pleasure, rather than rigid rules and dry intellectualism.

This final room shows how Gainsborough defied the Academy’s distinctions between finished and unfinished, drawing and painting, and ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture. It includes examples of his late portraiture, as well as the remarkable range of different media in which Gainsborough made his imaginative and experimental exploration of landscape in the last decade or so of his life.